University of Southampton

Our history

View our story - from humble beginnings to world-renowned status.

View our timeline to find out more about our major milestones, achievements, awards and archive images.

On 15 October 1862 the Hartley Institution was declared open by Lord Palmerston

It all started with a local eccentric - Henry Robinson Hartley.

Hartley was the heir to a family of Southampton wine merchants. A studious and reclusive character, he had turned his back on the family business and when he died he left his estate to the Corporation of Southampton to promote the study and advancement of science and learning.

The result was the formation of The Hartley Institution, which opened in the High Street, below the Bargate in 1862.

Within three years, the Hartley Institution had a membership of almost 700 – many of these being part-time evening students.

Students in 1904

A group of early students from Hartley University College pose for a picture

Students in 1904

By the 20th century we were already gaining an impressive reputation in spite of our small size. We became a University College in 1902 and by the 1930s we were winning national grants for our work in Chemistry and Engineering.

Rapid growth of our student population in the 1950s led to a massive expansion of our Highfield campus, and we began to innovate on a national and global level in a number of areas.

Our innovations:

  • We were a pioneer in forging special relationships with other universities to ensure high academic standards.
  • We were one of the first universities in the world to have a department of electronics (founded 1947).
  • We were a pioneer in supporting start-up businesses grown from the university (we have created more spin-out companies than almost any other UK university, including the largest ever successful university spin-out: Southampton Photonics).
  • We were one of the first universities to embrace digital resources, and create online-only courses accessible from around the world.
  • We are a pioneer of using university research to successfully inform UK government policy.
  • We are a pioneer in supporting a global academic environment with the creation of our Malaysian campus.
A modern university

From humble beginnings we are now a world renowned, very modern university

A modern university

The 21st century has seen us develop into a world-leading university

We are famous for being both research driven, and down-to-earth with the needs of business and society. We now have well over 20,000 full time students, and we are proud to see that they are continuing our traditions of innovation through dedication and hard work.

Together (across all disciplines) we believe we can go on to change the world for the better – one step at a time.

View our timeline of significant events.


Our coat of arms and motto

The heights yield to endeavour | strenuis ardua cedent

Our heraldic arms

Granted by Royal Charter in 1952

Our heraldic arms

Our coat of arms signifies our strong connections with our local community, and our commitment to peace and advancement through learning.

Our motto strenuis ardua cedent means ‘the heights yield to endeavour’, or, in other words 'hard work is what leads to success'.

Discover the University today

Find out what makes us a great university today: